What's at Stake?
In 2014, Study of Relationships in America asked over 15,000 people questions about the afterlife, heaven and hell, and bodily resurrection. In this study, Catholics self-identified as either “Traditional (5.7%),” "Moderate (7.5%)," "Liberal (5.8%)," or "Other (3.2%)." The percentage attending church on a given week was 58%, 44%, 21%, and 18%, respectively. Overall, 37% of Americans believe there will be a bodily resurrection of the dead. 58% of "Traditional Catholics," 51% of "Moderate Catholics," 30% of "Liberal Catholics," and 49% of "Other Catholics" believe in bodily resurrection. I find this statistic disturbing considering bodily resurrection is an article of the faith. Our belief in a bodily resurrection depends on our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus.
What we believe about the Resurrection of Jesus, determines what we think about our life on earth, its purpose and meaning, and eternal life. God through the Resurrection of Jesus, defeats the last enemy, death, and proves to us that love is stronger than death. We are not cosmic orphans, but beloved children whose deepest desire for everlasting life is promised in the Resurrection of Jesus.
The great importance of the Resurrection is not in the past, “Christ rose” - but in the present - “Christ is Risen.” “Why do you seek the living among the dead,” asked the angels at the tomb (Lk 24:5). The same question is asked of us today. If only we would not keep Christ in the past, He would set our lives and the world on fire as He did two millennia ago. If the power of the Resurrection did it then, it is certainly the answer to our new pagan culture. Conversion of our world is the dominant meaning and possibility of the Resurrection.
“We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33). The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross" (CCC 638).
The Resurrection of Jesus is the most important, influential, and transforming truth of the faith: Pope Benedict XVI, in his second book on Jesus of Nazareth, writes:
“The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead. If this were taken away, it would still be possible to piece together from the Christian tradition a series of interesting ideas about God and men ... but the Christian faith itself would be dead. Jesus would be a failed religious leader...and his authority would extend only so far as his message is of interest to us ... the only [thing] left would be our own judgment in selecting ...what strikes us as helpful. In other words, we would be alone.”
As St. Paul said, 20 years after Jesus’ death on the Cross, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The Catholic faith, the Christian life ultimately depends on the truth of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Did Jesus rise from the dead is the pivotal question. If Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true and Jesus is God. If He didn't, then Christianity is false and Jesus is at best one nice teacher among many.
Over a series of posts, therefore, we will seek clarity to understand and share the truth of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. First, we will look at the historical data that needs a sufficient explanation. Second, we will explore five criteria that historians lean on to examine different theories. Third, we will apply these criteria to the five most logical theories (logical doesn’t mean they are adequate explanations) to determine which best explains the data. Fourth, we will examine and answer the best objections to the Resurrection. Finally, we will ask if Jesus gave us a hint about the proof of the resurrection in his preaching?
I hope you join me on this journey to a deeper understanding of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What's at stake is eternal life!!
I am a Catholic priest writing about Catholic things.
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